Understanding how USPS, UPS, and other shipping carriers in the U.S. handle domestic shipping pricing can be a little daunting. Shipping carriers set their prices according to shipping zones, and how much you pay usually depends on which zone the destination lies in. USPS, for example, divides the 50 states into eight zones, designated 1-8. Simple enough, right? The confusing part is that the zones are not fixed. The zone in which a destination (i.e., the ship to) city exists will change depending on the origin (i.e., the ship from) city.
Assume you are shipping a package via USPS from Simple Global’s fulfillment center in New Castle, Delaware to an address in Cleveland, Ohio. In this case, Cleveland is in Zone 4
However, let’s say you are shipping from Simple Global’s fulfillment center in Cypress, California. The destination is still Cleveland, but now you are shipping to Zone 8. The rule of thumb is this: the further away the destination is from the origin, the higher the zone number. And the higher the zone number, the more you are going to pay for shipping.
You might see USPS zones as high as 13. Zones 9-13 are for U.S. territories outside the 50 states and Puerto Rico; e.g., Guam and APO (military) addresses. The prices for shipping to these zones are much higher than zones 1-8 due to the greater distance, and the fact that these locations are usually overseas.
One thing to be aware of is that not all USPS services use zones for pricing. For example, First Class Mail is zone-free. The shipping cost is based only on the weight of the package—shipping a 12 ounce package to the next town over costs the same amount as shipping it to the other side of the country.
UPS zones work similarly, but UPS does not use zone 1. For the 48 contiguous states (that is, all the states except Alaska and Hawaii), there are seven zones, designated 2-8. In addition, there are three special zones:
- Zone 44: Metropolitan areas of Alaska and Hawaii
- Zone 45: Puerto Rico
- Zone 46: Remote areas of Alaska and Hawaii
UPS also adds a prefix to their zone numbers based on the service. For example, if you are shipping to Zone 2 using UPS Ground, the zone will be 002, or simply 2. If you are using 3 Day Select, there will be a 30 in front of the zone number (2), so the zone will be listed as 302. For 2nd Day Air, the prefix is 20, making the zone number 202.
Tools of the Trade
Both USPS and UPS have tools to help you determine which zone you are shipping to. You can use the following links to access these tools:
- USPS Domestic Zone Chart: Navigate to the tab “Get Zone for ZIP Code Pair.” Enter the zip code you’re mailing from and the zip code you’re mailing to, and you will get the shipping zone for your destination. Note: the zip code for the Simple Global Delaware fulfillment center is 19720, and for the California fulfillment center it is 90630
- UPS Zones and Rates for the 48 Contiguous States: Enter your zip code of origin and download zone charts.
How do Zones Affect Transit Times?
As we’ve already stated, shipping zones are one factor that impact the price of shipments (along with weight and dimensions, of course). The zone the destination resides in also affects transit times.
As you might guess, the higher the zone number, the longer it will take for a package to be delivered. If you’re shipping via UPS Ground to zone 2 or 3, your package might be delivered in 1 or 2 days. If instead you’re shipping to zone 8—e.g., from the East Coast to the West Coast, or vice versa—transit time could be 4-5 days or more.
One way to ensure a shorter transit time is to house your inventory in multiple locations. For example, if you keep inventory in one fulfillment center on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, you can ship orders from whichever is closer to the destination. This means most destinations will fall within zones 1-5, and the majority of your shipments will arrive more quickly—even if you are not using an express service. Fast, inexpensive shipping is something more and more consumers are demanding, so anything that reduces cost and transit time is worth consideration.
With Simple Global’s bi-coastal fulfillment centers, you’ll be able to split your inventory so that you’ll rarely be shipping to those high-numbered zones. You’ll save money, and your customers will appreciate the shorter transit times.
The Bottom Line
Understanding zones is a key component to making good logistics decisions. It helps you determine costs and transit times, and is instrumental in developing a shipping strategy. And with a great strategy, you’ll be better able to better support your customers and propel your business to success.